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The outside of the UNM Lobo Food Pantry in the SUB.

Lobo Food Pantry breaks stigmas and tackles food insecurity

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 30% of all college students struggled with food insecurity during their college careers, according to Health Affairs. The Lobo Food Pantry, located on the first floor of the Student Union Building in room 1093, provides University of New Mexico students with free food to help combat food insecurity at UNM.

The pantry is a donation-based system that is free for all students, according to Amanda Martinez, a basic needs specialist at the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center and Lobo Food Pantry supervisor.

“The Lobo Food Pantry is a 100% free resource to all UNM currently enrolled students. It's 100% donation, which makes it 100% free. So students can come in, free (to) select off the shelf.  So they get to pick what they take,” Martinez said. “To check out, it's basically a weight system. So we weigh their food for the day, and then they're on their way. We were ideally setting it up in a grocery-like format.”

Unlike a grocery store, the pantry does not have the resources to keep up with constant stocking, according to Martinez. The pantry relies heavily on donations from various organizations like the Roadrunner Food Bank. The pantry also recently received a grant from Sandia National Laboratories to purchase four refrigerators and another grant from Roadrunner to purchase a freezer, expanding the pantry’s scope to include perishable items, according to Martinez.

“We recently just got this giant order of oranges and lemons, and they've gone very quickly … So it's been amazing being able to offer that,” Martinez said.

Along with refrigeration, the pantry has seen an increase in students since moving from the University Advisement and Enrichment Center to the Student Union Building in tandem with working to eliminate stigma around food pantries generally, according to Martinez.

“Students accessing (the pantry) and not feeling like they're accessing a food pantry; they can come in, grab a bag of chips, and go sit with their friends upstairs in the food hall and no one knows that they got those chips from the pantry. So, I think spreading the word and making it accessible has been a huge help in us helping more students,” Martinez said.

These advancements have allowed the pantry to expand its staffing to include two work study students: Yulet Villafuerte and Caitlyn Browne. The work study students have allowed the pantry to expand their hours from two hours per day to six. Previously, they relied solely on volunteers, which do still play a key role in its operation. 

The pantry has several events planned before the holiday season to raise awareness and bring in donations. These include a “Friendsgiving” celebration in coordination with UNM Food on Nov. 16 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at La Posada; volunteers at the event will help assemble boxes that will be donated back to the pantry. They also plan to have a food reclamation event during finals week where students can donate nonperishable food items they have left over from the semester, which helps the pantry grow their inventory for the spring semester.

“What stands out about the food pantry for me is that I actually used a food pantry a lot. Well, my mother, we actually grew up using (one) a lot. So to be a part of something that I was very familiar with, I was really excited for because I knew how much it can contribute to other people,” Villafuerte said. “Especially people who are less fortunate and just can't afford certain things, especially around the holidays, providing just like a little thing for Thanksgiving was a really big thing for me growing up. I just wanted to be able to give back the same way.”

Students interested in volunteering can sign up by going in during the pantry’s open hours or by emailing Martinez at amartinez95@unm.edu.

Elizabeth Secor is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @esecor2003

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